That seems an acceptable pace in change that Canadians feel comfortable with when it comes to Aboriginal programs.
Take the latest report by the Auditor-General of Canada on child welfare programs and First Nations peoples. It slams the federal government for doing little while living conditions on- and off-reserve get worse, funding to improve living conditions is nowhere near enough to meet the need. The feds base its funding of these programs on a 20-year old formula put into place when there was – finally – a native child welfare policy to allow Aboriginal child welfare agencies and programs to take of their own families and children and – hopefully – prevent the wholesale destruction of Aboriginal families.
You have to remember that this all came about 30 years after provincial social workers and their agencies swooped into reserves across the country, scooped up Indian kids by the thousands based on their particular definition of need (and they decided that what these kids needed was a good white home), and set up Indian kids for sale signs as far away as Europe. One Manitoba family court judge condemned it as a form of “cultural genocide.”
This expansion of child welfare services to Aboriginal communities, which took place across Canada at this time, left a profound and negative impact on these communities. As the Canadian Council on Social Development documented:
In 1955, there were 3,433 children in the care of B.C.’s child welfare branch. Of that number it was estimated that 29 children, or less than 1 percent of the total, were of Indian ancestry. By 1964, however, 1,446 children in care in B.C. were of Indian extraction. That number represented 34.2 percent of all children in care. Within ten years, in other words, the representation of Native children in B.C.’s child welfare system had jumped from almost nil to a third. It was a pattern being repeated in other parts of Canada as well. 24
In most provinces, these child welfare services were never provided in any kind of meaningful or culturally appropriate way. Instead of the counselling of families, or consultation with the community about alternatives to apprehending the child, the apprehension of Aboriginal children became the standard operating procedure with child welfare authorities in most provinces.
In Manitoba, the child welfare system “protected” many Aboriginal children by taking them away from their families and placing them for adoption with non-Aboriginal families. This came to be known as the “Sixties Scoop,” but it continued into the 1980s. Although the flaws in this approach would only become evident to most of society later, Aboriginal people immediately condemned the practice. As Anthony Wood of God’s River told our Inquiry:
There was no publicity for years and years about the brutalization of our families and children by the larger Canadian society. Kidnapping was called placement in foster homes. Exporting Aboriginal children to the U.S. was called preparing Indian children for the future. Parents who were heartbroken by the destruction of their families were written off as incompetent people.
Things haven’t changed much since the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba issued its report in 1991. Today, there more Indian kids in the custody of native and non-native child welfare agencies than ever – even during the height of the “Sixties Scoop.” Direct action that, back then, resulted in the destruction of Indian families and communities has been replaced by deliberate inaction with similar results.
And so it goes.